Anthony Rizzo has done plenty of damage with his bat for the Cubs this season, but it was his eyes that did the trick Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
The first baseman walked three times — including an epic 13-pitch at-bat that completely shifted the tenor of the game — to propel the Cubs to a 3-2 victory over the Nationals before a crowd of 41,531.
With the Cubs hitless and lifeless against Nationals starter Jeremy Hellickson, Rizzo came to the plate with two outs in the sixth inning and proceeded to foul off seven pitches en route to a walk that sparked a game-tying rally. An inning later, Rizzo did it again when he walked with the bases loaded to give the Cubs the lead and eventual win in the opener of a three-game series.
“Sometimes in those situations I’m cool as can be, and that time I was a little more nervous for some reason,” Rizzo said of the at-bat that tied his career high for the most pitches in a plate appearance. “I was just trying to choke up as much as I can and put the ball in play. It was a good at-bat. I think it really helped us out.”
It didn’t do much for Hellickson, who had retired 17 consecutive Cubs and was cruising along with a no-hitter before Rizzo coaxed the walk. Hellickson then unraveled by throwing eight consecutive balls to Javy Baez and Ben Zobrist to load the bases. That was enough for Nationals manager Dave Martinez, as the former Cubs bench coach pulled Hellickson in favor of Sammy Solis. Jason Heyward then rocketed a single into right to tie the score at 2-2.
“In that situation I’m just trying to get something to hit,” Heyward said. “If he makes good pitches then he’s going to make them. He fell behind and I got a pitch to hit.”
Rizzo got more pitches to take in the seventh when he drew a walk to force in a run to give the Cubs a lead that relievers Justin Wilson, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop made stand.
Starter Kyle Hendricks allowed two runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in six innings, while Hellickson didn’t allow a hit over 5⅔ innings yet gave up two runs with four walks.
“That was a strange game,” said Hendricks, who settled down after falling behind 2-0 after two innings and went on to record his team-leading 11th quality start of the season. “[Hellickson] was throwing the ball really well and that at-bat by Rizzo [in the sixth] just really swung the momentum and it trickled down to the rest of the guys.”
The game also featured manager Joe Maddon getting ejected for arguing a play in the seventh inning when umpire Bill Miller ruled Willson Contreras was running inside the baseline and interfered with a ball thrown to third baseman Anthony Rendon. The Cubs overcame that obstacle and eventually scored on Rizzo’s third walk.
The Nationals’ loss spoiled the homecoming for Martinez, who served as Maddon’s bench coach from 2014-17.
Martinez said familiarity with the Cubs could come into play sometime during the three-game series.
“I do know them, but we have to execute,” Martinez said. “We can see a lot of things during scouting, but if you don’t execute, it doesn’t matter. It’s nice to have some tidbits and know these guys and … we might exploit some things that I know, but we’ll see.”